And without fail, Dorothy got Don through the losses, spending a couple of hours after each one prying the disappointment out of him. Emotionally crushed, with bloodshot eyes and a strained, hoarse voice, Don would go home after defeats and seclude himself, sometimes with Dorothy, sometimes alone, to recover. The children knew to stay away from him.
"I can remember him sitting alone on the patio one time, staring out over the pool," Annie says. "I watched him from the bathroom window, and I felt so sorry for him, I started to cry. I wished I could have jumped on his lap and put my arms around him."
"He'd scare the crap out of you," says Sharon. "He's built like a wall, and there's such a powerful force inside him. We did not talk about losses. Period. I kept myself hidden in my bedroom. As I've gotten older, I've just stayed away. I can't even bring myself to go to his box at Joe Robbie Stadium after a loss."
In the end it was to the children that he turned to get over the greatest loss of his life. Without Dorothy, the backbone of the family, he became a more involved father. He became more aware of his children's needs, and he took the time to listen to them. To be a powerful leader for so many years, he had trained himself not to show vulnerability. But he realized it was time to open up to his kids. He allowed himself to share his human frailties.
Now his relationships with the children are flourishing. In February, on the second anniversary of Dorothy's death, the Shulas gathered in Miami for a weekend golf, tennis and fishing tournament and a black-tie dinner that raised $600,000 for breast-cancer research. "This is a relationship we've needed for a long time," says Annie. "There were times I wished that the closeness and togetherness could be there a little more. We've needed to be able to go cry on his shoulder if we had to, or to just talk to him and express our opinions and concerns without being judged. Our loss drew us all together."
Says Donna, "Since Mom died, he has made an effort to be closer to us. She flat-out begged him to be there for us. I talk to him about things that I used to go to Mom with. He was never the kind of father who could tell you he loved you, who would hold you or kiss you. It was real awkward for him. But these days he's very connected. He tells us he loves us a lot more."
There are several other signs of a new and improved Don Shula. He has upgraded his wardrobe with expensive threads, right down to his socks, and his California-based designer, Rickey Lamitie, writes numbers inside the clothes so Shula will be able to coordinate his ensembles. Shula's suits cost between $1,500 and $2,500, and he has bought them in an array of colors, including royal blue and light green. Those plain golf shirts that were his standard uniform have been replaced by silk shirts in geometric prints, even florals, and he's wearing snazzy white slacks and Italian tasseled loafers.
In the spring of 1992, Shula began dating Mary Anne Stephens, who has a home on posh Indian Creek Island in Miami. Stephens, 48, is the former wife of Jackson Stephens, a wealthy Arkansas financier and chairman of Augusta National Golf Club, home of the Masters. Politically well connected, Mary Anne served on the national fund-raising committee for Nancy Reagan's "Just say no" campaign and co-chaired George Bush's 1988 presidential campaign in Arkansas. In 1990 then Governor Bill Clinton named her Arkansas Citizen of the Year for, among other things, helping the University of the Ozarks raise $20 million, some of which went to a center for students with learning disabilities.
Shula was introduced to Stephens at a 1992 New Year's Day party hosted by golfer Raymond Floyd and his wife, Maria, who also live on Indian Creek. After that Shula spoke to Stephens a few times on the telephone, but it took him two months to ask her for a date. "He kept asking me questions about her for weeks and weeks," says Shula's friend Dick Elias. "He said, 'Tell me about her. What do you think about her?' I said she was very attractive and very easy to talk to. The first time he went to her house, for lunch, I had to take him, literally lead him, by the arm. He was petrified."
Today Shula and Stephens smooch in public, hold hands at the dinner table and nibble off each other's plates. Shula raised some eyebrows in Seattle last season when he boarded a team bus at the airport and asked a member of the Dolphin traveling party about the kind of flowers that would be in his hotel suite. It finally dawned on somebody that Stephens was in town. "He writes me the sweetest little notes," says Stephens.